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Orders of the Day — European Communities Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 13th July 1972.

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Photo of Mr John Mendelson Mr John Mendelson , Penistone 12:00 am, 13th July 1972

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. That is the correct quotation. I have no hope that the right hon. Gentleman will answer that question even tonight. We are all asking that question. What matters here, now that the phrase has been corrected, is that this was clearly used although it was not added to with another sentence, "But we shall negotiate only about transitional arrangements." There the Prime Minister was reluctant to take the electorate into his confidence. That was never said. It was a deliberately dubious phrase introduced by the Prime Minister into the manifesto because he knew full well that if he had put into that manifesto a firm commitment to go into the Common Market, the Conservatives would not have been returned with more than 150 seats. Conservatives in all constituencies will bear that out.

Fourthly, I come to the present political situation. That is changing all the time. We have recently seen a serious shift of Government in France. We know now that M. Messmer is there to produce a government of Gaullist orthodoxy, and the tone in which the French Government are speaking about our commitments is beginning to become more extreme again.

It is no good my right hon. Friend the Member for Cheetham talking about monetry matters. It is a fact of life that most of the serious argument in our debates has to take place between hon. Members on the Opposition benches because we cannot get either the Prime Minister or the Chancellor of the Exchequer to come to the House to make a serious contribution. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Cheetham speaks there is something to debate. But the member of the Government who is constitutionally responsible for the underlying financial arrangements is never here.

It has been a grotesque debate when we have come to important monetary matters in that the man responsible does not reveal his mind. But when my right hon. Friend the Member for Cheetham talks about these matters, it is not good enough to say that he cannot possibly conceive that any such large figure across the exchanges will ever be possible. I do not know whether everyone understands what he means by that. I take it to mean that it may well happen in real life but that it would be so destructive of our interests that Britain could never pay such large sums and that, if that is properly explained to our partners, they will see that this is so and therefore it will never happen.

I hope that I have correctly interpreted my right hon. Friend's mind. But that is the worst possible reason for doing what the Government are proposing we should do tonight. If that is to be the catastrophe implied in this legislation and these arrangements, if those are the terms under which we are invited to enter, surely the time to say "No" is tonight so that we can preserve ourselves from all these dangerous developments. In that respect my right hon. Friend's logic is not of its usual clarity and excellence. I can only assume that the case is not a good one, because my right hon. Friend's mind is as good today as it has been throughout the many years that I have known him.

Finally, there have been a number of important contributions on the position of the electorate. I nail my colours to the mast. I am no friend of referenda, even if they are being referred to in Labour Party discussion programmes, because that is what the document is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg), who is a member of that august body, the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party, and probably of the drafting committee itself, reminded us.

However, I firmly believe that the debate will not conclude before a General Election has taken place and the electorate has had its say. If right hon. and hon. Gentlemen believe that after tonight the whole matter will go by default and everybody will return them again saying, "It is all over now", they are very wrong. The debate will continue. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) said at the conclusion of a Labour Party Conference debate last year, whenever the General Election comes our condemnation of these terms will be put to the electorate. I have no doubt of the outcome of such a challenge. Then we shall return to this place and ensure that the interests of the British people are properly protected.